Guy Debord wrote about media and the concept of representation in the Society of the Spectacle, a book which was heavily influenced by the thought of Karl Marx, most particularly the ideas of commodities and fetishism in culture and capitalism. Debord believed that the spectacle had become an integral part of society, and that what one had become more important than who one was. It is no longer about what experiences are, but how they are perceived, particularly by other people. Experience, and thereby existence, has become a commodity, something that is represented and ‘sold’ as something for people to watch. The spectacle is for Debord a ‘wish for sleep’, and, like Marx’s idea of religion, holds people back, numbing them and preventing them from truly living.
There is little doubt that Debord would despair at how the spectacle has developed. Image and representation is more rife than ever in the form of social media, the news, and television. The spectacle has grown immensely, shown since the mediation of images having become so common in people’s relation to each other. He writes ‘this society eliminates geographical distance only to produce a new internal separation’. The emergence of Facebook, Instagram and Snapchat may prove Debord more true than ever. We can through technology reduce our geography from each other, yet we remain separated nevertheless, since all we are seeing is a representation of something or somebody, leaving users in a state of restlessness and dissatisfaction.
Are we dreaming? Does the world we live in even exist? Do I exist? These are questions that have been grabbled with for thousands of years, and yet we still have no definite answers. The question ‘Do I exist?’ was best answered by Descartes when saying ‘cogito ergo sum’. However, there are still no satisfactory answers, it seems, to the question of whether anything outside of our minds is real.
There are many things which may make life seem real, especially when we compare our ‘real’ life to that of our own dreams. Our dreams tend to be disordered, random, and unpredictable. The conscious world is much more orderly and understandable than the murky depths of the unconscious. Maybe there is no world outside our minds, but even if there wasn’t, it probably wouldn’t change much. We cannot not live in this world unless we die. Of course, we don’t have to ‘die’ in the most fundamental sense. We can kill ourselves without really dying, and in today’s world this seems particularly applicable. How much of our time do we spend in the ‘real’ world? Was there once a real world which is no longer really accessible to us? We spend so much time watching other worlds, reading about other worlds, dreaming of other worlds, and creating other worlds that it is hard to decipher what is real and what is not. Is social media real? Or is it a virtual reality, a fake? We exist in this world, but are we living in it? Perhaps we have become too detached from what is real-nature and other people-that we have lost a sense of reality. Even if the world outside our minds isn’t real and other people and nature doesn’t really exist, it doesn’t matter, because they exist to us, and they are the most real thing we could ever experience.
If we want to live again, we must come back to reality, whatever that is. It may not be possible to say what reality is, only what it is not.